As much as this material aluminum foil serves multiple useful purposes, the question eco-conscious consumers are asking is, “is aluminum foil recyclable?” The short answer is yes; you can recycle aluminum foil. However, the how is not quite as straightforward, and in this article, we’ll answer this question in more detail to address your concerns.
Aluminum foil is a thin, paper-like sheet of aluminum. Manufacturers produce it through a rolling method from the metal. These sheets are around 0.006mm to 0.2 mm in thickness.
It is pliable and flexible and serves various purposes, from wrapping edible items to lining baking trays for an easy wash. Apart from the regular plain foils, manufacturers also make containers from aluminum. These include products like pie plates and other kitchen containers.
Aluminum foil has key properties that make people appreciate it. One of these properties is that it serves as a barrier to oxygen, light, and bacteria. As a result, people use this material to keep food fresh, lock in moisture, and wrap certain foods for grilling.
Apart from these uses, various industries incorporate aluminum into their processes and packaging. Such markets include the personal care industry, confectionery, automotive, and beverage industries. Industries also use this paper-thin shiny sheet for purposes such as insulation.
We can recycle aluminum foil again and again. Recycled aluminum materials are easily reformed and reused to produce other items. Like many homes, businesses and industries use these materials; there’s also a growing concern about the life cycle.
Many materials and products end up in one landfill or the other, thereby contributing to environmental pollution. This is why most eco-conscious consumers and businesses prioritize recycling efforts. To ensure the diversion of waste from landfills, we can all do our bit by recycling aluminum foil. This also includes other aluminum products, such as aluminum trays and cans.
As much as aluminum foil is recyclable, it comes with a catch - it has to be clean and free of grease. If food waste or residues are stuck to it, other recyclables can get contaminated. So, before tossing it into the recycling curbside bin, make sure you’ve cleaned it.
Since places like homes and restaurants use aluminum foil for packaging, it is advisable to clean any food residue properly. This critical step will prevent recycling contamination from aluminum foil waste, ensure they accept aluminum foil, and make it easy for recyclers to create new products.
There are various innovative ways of using the foil. There are two main ways of diverting aluminum foil from landfills. The first is reusing, and the second is recycling. So, before you decide to recycle, why not try out reusing it?
Finding innovative ways to reuse aluminum foil helps to reduce waste. Before tossing the foils into your recycling bins, we’ve highlighted some reuse ideas below:
As much as aluminum foil is 100% recyclable, there’s no guarantee that all recycling centers will accept it. However, one of the best recycling facts about aluminum is that we can recycle it infinitely. This saves a ton of energy producers otherwise channel into creating virgin products.
Sometimes, although not always, your local curbside recycling program will take your aluminum foil. However, you do need to check, as regular curbside recycling programs may not have the technology to process soiled foil and smelt the metal.
Whereas foil is made from the same material as soda cans or aluminum cans, these may be processed separately. And like most recycled materials, the answer to what can be taken by your local recycling program can vary from city to city.
About 75% of aluminum that has been produced is still present today and used productively4. You can imagine the amount of resources that the world has preserved due to this. Recycling aluminum is a good step for various reasons. Below are some of the reasons you should start recycling:
Recycling is an environmentally-friendly option that allows us to save energy that would otherwise be channeled into making items from scratch.
If not reused or recycled, the foil will most likely end up in landfills. This significantly contributes to pollution.
Recycling aluminum reduces the demand for constantly extracting raw material from the earth.
Aluminum is one of the earth’s most abundant metals. It is the third most prominent element in the earth’s crust1. Globally, its production keeps steadily increasing. The output levels reached around 132.3 million tons in 20192.
Most of the aluminum produced in the world comes from China. The nation produced 35.8 million metric tons just in 20193. With this massive production comes various uses in several industries and households. We have foils, aluminum cans, trays, and other containers.
We can trace the origins of the versatile aluminum foil over a hundred years ago. This material was first used in packaging in 1911. It became a replacement for tin foil. The Tobler factory in Switzerland pioneered the commercial usage of aluminum foil in food wrapping. They used it to package their chocolate bars, Toblerone. Around the 1960s, various unique ways of using the foil began to spring up.
Aluminum is widely recycled. Unlike some materials, they can be recycled indefinitely. Recycling presents environmental benefits such as conserving resources and minimizing waste. However, you can always consider the many innovative ways to reuse aluminum foils before recycling.
Stahl, T., Falk, S., Taschan, H., Boschek, B., & Brunn, H. (2018). Evaluation of human exposure to aluminum from food and food contact materials. European Food Research and Technology, 244(12), 2077-2084.
Zeng, H., Lyu, F., Sun, W., Zhang, H., Wang, L., & Wang, Y. (2020). Progress on the Industrial Applications of Red Mud with a Focus on China. Minerals, 10(9), 773.
Statista. (n.d.). Aluminum production worldwide in 2019, by region
European Aluminum Foil Association. (n.d.). Recycling & Recovery of Aluminum Foil Packaging
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.